11 Digital Thread Use Cases
Written By: Molly Isadora Sadoff
11/18/2021 Read Time : 7 min

Spend on digital transformation has intensified within the past three years and sees no sign of slowing down.

A recent survey by PTC found companies are investing at least 5 percent of annual revenue on these types of projects – and as executives increase their spending, they’re targeting a variety of goals across their companies. These goals range from improving product quality to reducing the cost of operations to increasing supply chain and resiliency.

As digital transformation projects increase in size and scale, the survey illustrated that the impact is dependent on the ability to leverage data generated across initiatives. Among the most effective ways enterprises are successfully harnessing data is through a digital thread strategy.

Digital thread creates a closed loop between digital and physical worlds to optimize products, people, processes, and places. However, harnessing the data to drive specific and impactful results is easier said than done. A critical step is identifying specific use cases and aligning them with key strategic business initiatives.

In this post, we’re outlining the 11 most-common use cases for digital thread across the product lifecycle (engineering, manufacturing, and service) and sharing how PTC customers are realizing significant business value.

11 Digital Thread Use Cases with Real-World Examples

Our first three examples focus on VCST, an automotive supplier of precision-machined powertrain and brake components. Their mission-critical products have a significant impact on overall vehicle performance. Learn more about VCST’s digital thread journey here.

Use Case #1: Change & Configuration Management

Definition: Standardized, automated change processes that provide change visibility and status reporting with electronic sign-offs of change issues.

Challenge: VCST committed to building the factory of the future and identified the need to implement smart factory initiatives for their facility in Belgium. Their objectives included:

  • Reduce cost
  • Increase quality of product
  • Fuel innovation
  • Faster time to market

Solution: VCST created a digital thread, uniting their PLM and IoT systems of record so they could infuse real-time data and digital solutions across their operations. This allowed them to relate the data of machines and processes in the factory with change management and configuration information, providing precise and coordinated information sharing between teams to unlock insights and find patterns for continuous improvement of both product and processes.

Use Case #2: Remote Monitoring and Condition-Based Service

Definition: Gain visibility into the current status and properties of deployed equipment. Configure alarms to trigger alerts and initiate cross-system workflows based on real-time data to minimize response times.

Challenge: As VCST built towards their factory of the future, they looked for opportunities to increase efficiency, quality and maintenance.

Solution: Prior to implementing a digital thread throughout their quality and maintenance departments, these teams relied on paper processes and disconnected systems in siloes. Beyond these operational pain points, any customer complaints would result in a complete inspection of the facility, resulting in extensive downtime that impacted their margin. By implementing the digital thread, VCST was able to connect their systems and maintain high-quality standards in order to meet the needs of their customers.

Use Case #3: Augmented Reality Service Instructions and Technician Support

Definition: Efficiently create scalable AR instructions that improve understanding and accuracy.

: VCST is on a mission to automate and innovate. The next step for their innovations is to create powerful step-by-step training instructions that are not tied to paper documentation.

Solution: By leveraging Vuforia Expert Capture, VCST will be able to create augmented reality (AR) instructions to help maintenance technicians get their jobs done quickly and accurately.

Our next two use cases revolve around Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE), a leading international manufacturer of premium construction equipment. Learn more about Volvo CE’s digital thread journey here.

Use Case #4: Change and Quality Management

Definition: Streamline design to manufacturing data transfer by allowing users to capture up-to-date quality information.

: Volvo CE faced increasing pressure to shorten product lifecycle and increase product complexity. Their objectives included:

  • Addressing costly and complex collection of legacy systems and processes that had been established previously
  • Breaking down siloed systems and eliminating manual handovers to decrease workflow disruption, delays and quality issues in data

Solution: Volvo CE replaced legacy, homegrown PLM systems with the unified Windchill product, across 15 sites and trained over 3,000 users. This allowed them to use Windchill as the foundation for their digital thread. Now, complex and cross-functional product information flows between groups and promotes increased collaboration.

Use Case #5: Project Collaboration

Definition: Seamless flow of up-to-date information between design, manufacturing, and production teams across functions and organizations.

Challenge: At Volvo CE, collaborating between functions was difficult and often relied on inaccurate data prior to the implementation of one shared PLM system.

Solution: Volvo CE increased their potential for collaboration by implementing a single unified PLM platform as the foundation for the digital thread. This allows multiple teams to work on projects with access to the correct and relevant data.

Use Case #6: Design Automation

Definition: Allows teams to streamline design process by automating designs (ex. generative design) or parts of design (includes assemblies, surfacing, routed systems design, etc.) and allows engineers to define parameters and relationships to create design rules automatically

Challenge: Jacobs Engineering was tapped by NASA to revamp the astronauts’ life support system for the 2024 moon mission; it needed to be safe (first and foremost), lightweight, and strong.

Solution: Working with Creo Generative Design, Jacobs Engineering started with a set of requirements for each component to the life support system, i.e. maximum size, weight it must bear, environment it needs to handle, and let the artificial intelligence come up with new design and engineering options to consider. As a result, the team was able to come up with a design and optimize it significantly faster than using traditional methods. 

Our next two use cases highlight Groupe Beneteau, the world leader in recreational boat manufacturing industry. They boast 10 brands of yachts and more than 200 models of boats, with many versions of each type. Learn more about Groupe Beneteau’s digital thread journey here.

Use Case #7: Design Collaboration

Definition: Seamless flow of up-to-date information between design, manufacturing, and production teams to design and develop products.

Challenge: At Beneteau, prior to their implementation technology enabling a digital thread, collaboration surrounding design, which involves many different teams, was challenging.

Solution: By implementing a PLM connected system, Groupe Beneteau was able to work from a single source of truth, keeping the engineering and manufacturing data current and accurate. This flow of information became seamless and helps to develop better products faster.

Use Case #8: Connected Shop Floor

Definition: Bi-directional flow of data between the shop floor and engineering team in real-time; ability to incorporate shop floor data like size of the space into the design process.

Challenge: Prior to implementing the PTC technology portfolio of Creo Parametric, Windchill, ThingWorx and Vuforia, each piece of Beneteau’s product information and associated materials and data was kept in siloed systems leaving the teams on the shop floor and the engineering team disconnected.

Solution: Beneteau implemented a process where work instructions and related product data are shared so issues like version control and human error are less pervasive. 

Use Case #9: AR-Guided Customer Self-Service

Definition: Deliver critical information to the customer in-context through augmented reality to improves the customer experience.

CustomerStannah is a family-owned group of companies dedicated to the design, production, and service of residential and commercial lifts.

: Selling a product that changes how people use their homes calls for a unique customer experience. Stannah looked to augmented reality to provide a fast, accessible, and non-intrusive way for customers to visualize a stairlift in their home.

Solution: Stannah created a new application, Envisage, built on Vuforia Engine, to deliver an improved sales experience, facilitate communication with customers, and differentiate themselves from the competition. The application shows how a stairlift would look within a home and the lifelike AR experience is based on actual product specifications in Creo and Windchill.

Use Case #10: Service Parts Optimization

Definition: Optimize the service supply chain to ensure the right parts are at the right place at the right time -- and at the right cost.   

Customer: Boeing Global Services

Challenge: Boeing needed a global enterprise standard to ensure maximum equipment availability and support the delivery of advanced performance-based logistics contracts.

Solution: Boeing is the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense systems. Boeing Global Services, the entity within Boeing responsible for aftermarket support, is a leading-edge example of the digital thread strengthened by sophisticated service parts optimization.

It set the service bar very high for every customer. Its assets, comprised of hundreds of thousands of parts, operate in highly variable conditions and live a very long time. Their supply chain environment has highly regulated parts, long lead times, and very long asset life, which adds to the complexity of their service parts supply chain. To get the highest service levels at the lowest costs, Boeing Global Services standardized on Servigistics.

With Servigistics as the foundation, Boeing set out to gather and organize all relevant enterprise data to maximize the value of Servigistics within the enterprise.

With the expert guidance of Capgemini, Boeing Global Services embarked on an intense 12-week process to create a data planning layer. The project aimed to capture a robust variety of data inputs upstream to support supply chain planning decisions with less customization downstream.

All the service parts data is invaluable to the broader organization for sales, inventory, and operations planning (Si&OP). Better understanding what’s breaking and where helps Boeing meet its customer commitments. With a powerful digital thread, silos within the enterprise breakdown leading to maximum equipment uptime and delighted customers. Find out more about this example here

Use Case #11: Remote Service

Definition: Reduce technician dispatches by remotely and securely logging into, monitoring, and repairing deployed equipment.

Customer: Howden is a global engineering business focused on providing customers with industrial products and quality solutions that help multiple sectors improve their everyday processes; from mine ventilation and wastewater treatment to heating and cooling.

Challenge: Howden wanted to enable customers to optimize equipment performance and operations. To achieve this, the company needed to improve their service and maintenance processes so customers could gain insight into their equipment.

Solution: Howden utilized the power of AR to easily provide insights from IoT in context and drive efficiencies in service. With Vuforia Studio, they were able to create immersive mixed reality experiences for the HoloLens and then easily incorporate IoT data to deliver compelling AR experiences to improve efficiencies and enable safer, more productive workers. This solution allowed Howden customers to prevent the challenges and costs associated with unplanned downtime and better align with maintenance strategies which were previously based only on conjecture and after-the-fact analysis. Learn more about Howden’s digital transformation journey here.

Final Thoughts

With a variety of use cases, digital thread represents a significant opportunity for engineering, manufacturing and service -- and it’s even more powerful when it’s weaved across all three functions. As illustrated in the customer stories above, PTC is uniquely positioned to deliver on digital thread as you connect technologies across our portfolio (CAD, PLM, IIoT, and AR).

Unlocking Data's Potential for the Enterprise Learn more about digital thread. Click Here
Tags: Digital Thread Industrial Internet of Things Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Augmented Reality CAD
About the Author Molly Isadora Sadoff

Molly Isadora Sadoff is a project manager for Corporate Marketing at PTC. She started with the company in 2019, working on the Global Partner Marketing team, where she collaborated cross functionally with internal teams to design, develop, and manage global marketing programs. Molly previously worked for several life sciences startups running their events strategy and programs. She is a graduate of the University of Hartford and in her free time enjoys hiking, kayaking and adventuring with her dog, Henrietta.